Change Your Habits with the Yes/No Principle

How many times have you said you wanted to change? To break a habit? Or make one? Stop procrastinating? Become more productive? Blablabla whatever?

The desire for change is something that really surges after the New Year. Gyms become packed, to-do lists get made, people of seemingly iron will dedicate themselves to bettering their health, quitting bad habits, learning new things, and being productive as hell.

For about two weeks.

Because hey, who knew that shit would be so hard. And props to people who do these things year-round, but as for me, I’d rather cuddle up with a blanket and a good movie, shoving down cookies and soda down my throat, complaining about how I never have time for anything.

Soon after that, the self-loathing hits and you start rethinking every decision you have ever made. You realize that, despite all the talk, you hate this. Yeah, it’s easy, but you’d rather be one of those productive, in-shape people with goals and talents. So, you decide to give it a shot, only to quit two weeks later and enter the same, vicious, never-ending cycle of procrastination.

Pretty young girl holding a rose
The vicious cycle of what was I talking about again?

I see people do this every single day, all year round. They talk and talk, complain and complain, scream out the “oh noes” and “why me-s” and “I just can’t do it-s” or “just this once-s”. They meet for 3-hour coffee breaks every day talking about how they never have time. They spend hours talking about how they can’t find a job, instead of spending hours looking for one. This one girl I know constantly complains about never having money despite working all the time, right after showing off all the designer clothes she just bought.

It’s very stereotypical, yes. But also very common.

We all know change is hard, and I’ve previously mentioned the importance of going to extremes. When you want to drastically change a personality trait, you shouldn’t just mildly reduce or increase a certain behavior, you have to be harsh and go to what I call the “other extreme”.

If you’re shy, spend as much time with people as you can. If you often procrastinate, spend an entire day learning and working without taking a break. If you spend too much time in front of electronics, shut them off completely for a while.

Today, we are going to revisit this concept. I’m going to provide a simple, yet sophisticated method for finally putting an end to the vicious cycle of half measure and help you finally make or break the habits you want.

YES/NO PRINCIPLE

The essence of this method is simple enough; you either always say yes or you always say no. You may be familiar with this seemingly-ludicrous concept from the 2008. movie “Yes Man”, in which Jim Carrey’s shy and unsocial character decides to start living it up by saying yes to every opportunity presented to him.

With the power of “yes” he stops making excuses and starts doing things he previously avoided or was afraid of. In a short period of time, he becomes more social, outgoing, and overall likeable. He opens his mind to travelling, learning new things, and developing new skills. He even went so far as to say “yes” to every online add that popped up, even those regarding penis enlargement or mail-ordering a bride.

The movie shows that the idea of saying “yes” to literally everything is ridiculous but, if tweaked a little, the core principle can have a very powerful effect on your own life:

Always say YES to something you fear doing, but want to.

Always say NO to something you want to stop doing.

For example, if you want to become more social and outgoing, start saying yes to every social opportunity that presents itself to you. High school reunion? Drinks with coworkers? Clubbing with friends? Hell yeah.

In contrast, say no to every instance of a habit you want to break. Want to reduce your caffeine intake? Stop drinking coffee altogether. Remove it from your house. Never order it when out with friends. Don’t drink it even on special occasions or when you have a pounding headache – always say no.

WHAT ABOUT THE “MAYBE PRINCIPLE”?

They key, of course, is in moderation – you can’t keep this behavior up forever. The Yes/No Principle’s only purpose is to get you over the hump. Always say either yes or no (depending on whether you’re trying to make or break a habit) only for a dedicated period of time. It can be a month, 66 days, 7 months or [(9 ¾) x π]% of a year. The point is that it’s completely arbitrary, but needs to be longer than you think it needs to be. So no, you’re not going to make any breakthrough in less than three weeks.

Yes, it’s going to feel weird and uncomfortable at first. No, you can’t make exceptions. This method is going to work only when you make no exceptions or excuses. For whatever habit you choose, you must always follow the design. Why?

Because you suck at consistency. Because if you managed to make optimal choices, you wouldn’t need this method. Because you spent years, possibly decades, behaving a certain way, and since a certain way of thinking has been so deeply ingrained within you, it can be really, really hard to change your behavior.

You keep climbing the same hill over and over again, but slip just before you get to the top and stumble all the way down. Then you sit there thinking “Gee whiz, this sure is a nasty pickle I’ve gotten myself into” before trying again, only to yield the same result. It’s literally a Sisyphean task.

Man struggling to open a jar of pickles
Nasty goddamn pickle!

What you need is a push – but not an ordinary push. You need a rocket strapped to your back that will blast you over the hill and give you a rush you won’t easily give up. You’re always yapping about wanting to change but never seem to grasp enough mental strength to do it. Well, here’s your chance. The emergency tool. Excalibur you will use to cut the never-ending cycle of half-success.

So say yes to things that scare you. That terrify you. Embrace them like salvation and run into them with open arms while shitting your pants with anxiety. That’s what winners do; they face their fears, shit their pants, grab a new pair, and come out stronger than ever.

Say no to things that prevent you from becoming the person you want to be. Don’t indulge poisonous habits. That’s what everybody else does and look where it gets them. So show them the finger (to the habits, not the people) and break out of the one-sided, abusive relationship they’ve got you barred in.

Always say yes to positive change. Always say no to venomous habits. Your desire for improvement needs to outweigh your desire for comfort, because the only way you’ll improve is by stepping out of your comfort zone.

You’re standing at the altar of life and your future is walking down the aisle. The moment of truth is finally here. There’s no turning back or avoiding this. In a matter of moments, you will be asked the question which will determine what’s waiting for you under the veil.

So take a deep breath, clear your head, and tell me – yes or no?

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Hey, I'm Phil Janecic.

I’m a guy who’s been in your shoes and knows exactly what you’re going through. I started Mind of Steel in 2014 to help people change their lives by building mental strength.

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